Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: A flagship at 4.6-inches

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: A flagship at 4.6-inches

All things a smartphone should be and nothing more

Few criticisms could be levelled against the Z1 Compact. The smartphone packed flagship guts into a comfortable 4.3in form factor. It was near perfect.

Sony has since taken a red pen to the original and made subtle refinements — important refinements — that inches the succeeding Z3 Compact closer to perfection.

The bezel-heavy body, for instance, has been shaved down to such an extent that even with a bigger 4.6in screen, the Z3 Compact stands no taller, is thinner and lighter. Metal has been used for the corners in order to improve rigidity, while the plastic bumpers lining its side are rounded for comfort’s sake.

Read our review of the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Cutting the fat down hasn’t cost the Z3 Compact its ability to take on water or dust. The smartphone works without fault in water 1.5 metres deep for up to thirty minutes. The touchscreen stops working under water, though you can still take photos thanks to the inclusion of the good ol’ shutter key.

And those photos will be quality pics at 20.7 megapixels. Don’t be fooled by the idle resolution; Sony has improved its low light capability with ISO going up to ISO12,800, which truly encroaches on digital camera territory. Another perk is support for Ultra high-definition video recording.

Captured with the Z3 Compact at 8 megapixels
Captured with the Z3 Compact at 8 megapixels

We took advantage of the camera during a concert. The dark arena, interrupted by rapid flashing lights, quick-fire lasers and enough bass to tickle your insides, challenged the Sony cam. Still photos blown to native resolution revealed some image noise, but when fitted to the size of a 13.3in notebook screen, the photos dazzled.

Video recording was characterised by a quick autofocus — most of the time. Blowing us away was the sound quality of a video recording. The bass should’ve overwhelmed the simple microphone, and yet somehow the accompanying audio track is crisp and clear and legible; it is reminiscent of a standalone digital camera.

Using this smartphone leaves the impression all of the separate divisions within Sony are working closer together.

Plug in a premium set of headphones and the Z3 Compact will play your music in richer quality. It supports high resolution audio (HRA) and FLAC music files, while run-of-the-mill AAC and MP3 files get an upscale in quality.

Then there’s the Z3 Compact’s distinct ability to play PS4 games on its screen. A specialised mount connects any member of the Z3 family to a PS4 controller. This means when the PS4’s TV is in use, the gaming can continue from the rich screen of your smartphone.

We didn’t get to use PS4 Remote Play extensively, but from our hands on, it worked without showing signs of lag. The experience could vary as the tech works over a home’s Wi-Fi connection.

Read more: Showdown: Sony Z3 Compact vs LG G3 Beat vs Samsung S5 Mini vs HTC Mini 2

Read our comparison of the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact and Apple iPhone 6

Sony has adopted a healthy combination of hardware when it comes to the Xperia Z3 Compact. The screen stretches 4.6 inches, and although it has a resolution of 1280x720, it manages to squeeze 319 pixels into each inch. Frankly, anything with a higher pixel density is overkill.

The company has instead focussed on balancing a rich screen with superior battery life. Our highest recorded battery life was a remarkable 44 hours with Stamina Mode enabled. Deactivating the mode and using the smartphone heavily still delivered a commendable 27 hours. The joys of packing a bag for a weekend trip without having to worry if our phone would last is something we had forgotten; the Z3 Compact offered a nice reminder.

Opening the flaps to charge the Z3 Compact can be annoying; however, the smartphone has wireless contacts for charging from an optional accessory dock
Opening the flaps to charge the Z3 Compact can be annoying; however, the smartphone has wireless contacts for charging from an optional accessory dock
Read more: Nikon Coolpix AW120 review: Tough and then some

The Sony smartphone could’ve lasted longer had we enabled Ultra Stamina Mode, which strips the phone’s functionality down to just the basics for more than a week of battery life. Sony isn’t the first company to include this feature, but its rendition is our favourite so far.

This Herculean battery life is squeezed from a relatively small 2600 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery.

Sneak a peek behind the tempered glass skin of the Z3 Compact and you’ll find it is flagship powerful. The smartphone packs a 2.5GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. It’ll take up to a 128GB microSD card if more memory is needed.

Tying this vast repertoire of features together is Sony’s rendition of Android 4.4 KitKat. The company’s overlay doesn’t try to redefine Android as much as it proves complementary. The application drawer, for instance, is stock, but swipe your finger from the edge left, and Sony’s custom menu pops up.

The overlay’s colour scheme works with that of stock Android, and it is applied consistently throughout the smartphone. This way Sony keeps the software light. This is software done right.

Settings from the application dock, the dialer and messaging app
Settings from the application dock, the dialer and messaging app

Music settings, album list and the gallery
Music settings, album list and the gallery

Some bloatware comes with the Z3 Compact, but the vast majority can be uninstalled without having to meddle with the smartphone.

Final thought

Sony has nailed the basics with the Z3 Compact. It has a long list of features most people will use everyday, and its list of shortcomings is blank. Good Gear Guide doesn’t award smartphones 5 stars on a whim. In fact, it’s something this writer has never done.

But the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is a 5 star phone.

Read our review of the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Click over for a spec-showdown and sample photos

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